Backing tracks

  1. EricG
    Hey all,

    Iíve had my mandolin for close to 4 weeks. I also signed up for Mike Marshallís lessons on Artistworks. Iím enjoying it for the most part, but I have a couple of questions.

    1. He stresses playing sitting vs standing. I use a strap, choose a good chair and stool, but find that I really play better when I stand. I havenít been able to notice any real reason, but Iím curious to know if anyone else prefers/tends to play better standing. And, what approach to play sitting may help me.

    2. Backing tracks-I hate them. Honestly, I have to play them very loud in order to hear them, I feel my anxiety sky rocket before the track starts and then I just start missing notes right away no matter how well I can play the tune without the backing track.

    Mike really wants recording played with the backing tracks, so I havenít sent in a single video of myself playing because I canít get the hang of playing along with them. Iím honestly learning this instrument for my own enjoyment and do not have any plans to ever play with others, so I donít know that using a backing track is all that useful to me.

    Any advice is greatly appreciated.

  2. NDO
    I’ve never played with a backing track, but I do play with the band or some guitar playing friends so I think there’s a good deal of value in having an ear for the rhythm and chords of the backing track. If you find it too distracting at first you might want to try a metronome or metronome app instead first, and when you can reliably keep pace at the same meter as the backing track try swapping to the track.
    I would think most instructors, especially ones doing remote learning presentations, have a fairly set method they have found to be most effective for the vast majority of their students. However I’ve found in life, “one size fits nobody”, so I believe there is room for varying approaches for different people. So you might consider finding some additional in-person or remote lessons to see if there’s an approach that fits you better. But honestly four weeks is not a lot of time- I’d be inclined to trust the instructor a bit longer and hang in there, there’s a reason they have established their methods.
    I’m probably the wrong guy to ask though- I’ve never had a lesson other than watching a few videos early on. I really need to apply myself to some more disciplined learning, but I’m having too dang much fun playing music.

    On the standing vs. sitting… I did all my early learning sitting down. I’ve been playing a fair amount standing up lately during gigs but still often sit while informally jamming or playing solo acoustic. If singing with a mic I slightly prefer standing. I think being able to do both is valuable. But again if your instructor wants you to sit, try sitting for a while or find another instructor.

    Good luck and most of all, have fun! If you feel like posting a video without a backing track and standing up, just do it here- it’s a judgement free zone!
  3. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    So, I'll say I have a strong bias, which is that you are paying to take Mike Marshall's course, so you should do it the way he says to get the most out of it.

    1. I play both standing and sitting. I want to be able to play in any situation and it takes a little bit of work to play fluidly when changing posture. But Mike wants you to play sitting, so I would encourage you to play sitting for his course.

    2. I think playing with back tracks is great practice for maintaining consistent timing.
  4. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    So.... I'm also on Mike's course. And I hear you on backing tracks. I've been playing for a little over a year and a half, and it is only quite recently that I've become comfortable at all with backing tracks. One thing about Mike's tracks, he does not allow you enough time to flip it on then get your pick back to the strings. It's real tough. I wish there were like a couple seconds before the count in, it would help alot in being ready to go. The other thing is to get yourself to keep playing when you make a mistake, vs the natural response to stop and try again (the "do-over"), which is almost invariably fatal with a backing track. (Well, not literally fatal, but you get the idea ) I'm still working on that, but getting better. Before I get to backing tracks, I start with playing with a metronome, set real slow. Every time I make it all the way through twice, I bump it up. When I get to the same speed as the backing track, I change over to the backing track.

    A more experienced cafe member recommended to me Grado SR80e open headset. They cost about $100, but I love them, they were game changers. You hear the backing track through the headset, but because they are open, you can hear yourself, too. I either use those, or sometimes I play the backing track on my USB speaker. Forget it with a phone or a laptop (IMHO).

    I've only ever played a couple times with my brother, no-one else, but am hoping that will change when covid is no longer an issue. I don't imagine I'd ever be up on a stage, but still would like to be in a jam session at some not too distant point. Or maybe play at church with the music ministry, though that's further out, I think. But even beyond that, I'm working on a project making a recording using three of my instruments, so that will be like playing with a backing track - one that I made myself.

    For me the biggest obstacle on the video was figuring out how to do it. Then, the first video I sent in to Mike, I just did the left and right hand exercises. I was super nervous. The second time it was some (really bad) strumming. I did try to use the tracks, but it was bad. He was really cool about it and found positive things to say. Just send it and don't worry. Don't get all psyched out by the fact that it's Mike Marshall and he's so good and you aren't. He's pretty laid back for a superhero

    Anyway, that's my 7 cents.

    Oh here's another half cent. Watch that banjo brain video that Henry posted about getting frustrated. It's awesome.
  5. BadExampleMan
    All I have to say is, learning to play music is supposed to be fun. If you're not having fun, UR DOIN IT RONG. :-)

    If Mike Marshall's teaching methods make you anxious, well, lesson learned, switch to another teacher. We all learn differently, every teacher teaches differently, and not every teaching style will match up with your learning style. I also am taking mando from Artistworks, but I'm signed up for Sierra Hull's course. And what I've found is that the way she teaches songs just doesn't work for me. I'm old and slow and I need lots of repetition to get something in my ear and under my fingers. Sharon Gilchrist's lessons over at Peghead Nation are much better for me in that respect. On the other hand, Sierra has a lot of great suggestions for practice exercises and I'm using a lot of them. (Sidebar: she doesn't have any rules about video submissions. I'm working on the octave mandolin and I'm submitting songs she's not even teaching! They're songs I've learned elsewhere but she seems more than happy to provide feedback to me.)

    What I'm saying is, it's your money and your time. Whatever you can get out of anyone's teaching, take it, but don't feel obligated to do everything exactly as they say. And if it turns out they're not a good match for you, look around for someone else.

    All that said, it really is good to learn to play along with backing tracks, as preparation for playing with actual live musicians. It's a separate skillset from just noodling alone and you should want to learn it. I might suggest in that regard that you check out Strum Machine. It's a website/app that has rhythm tracks for upwards of 1000 bluegrass and folk standards. The advantage is that it's tremendously configurable. You can set the tempo to suit, define the instruments, have a count-in or not, transpose songs to another key and a lot more. You can even compose your own tracks.

    So that's my 6 agarot (roughly 2 cents at current exchange rate).
  6. EricG
    Wow, thank you all for your thoughtful input. Sue, it’s nice to hear I’m not alone with my issues on the backing tracks. I’ll get a metronome app on my phone and start using that before the backing tracks. I like the course and his teaching, and appreciate the advice to try and stick with his methods as he has found that they probably work best for the majority of students. Again, thanks everyone for your thoughts and advice.
  7. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Any advice is greatly appreciated, so here goes …

    First off, my advice is to cut yourself a big break. I’ve been playing music since I was a kid, and I’m 67 in January. Still learning & struggling but have had a lifetime of fun playing music, and it’s not over, I love it. Remembering my early start with guitar, I just can’t imagine being 4 weeks in and judging my progress or making decisions on how best to proceed with my music … I can’t even imagine being able to commit fully to a specific course at that stage. Cut yourself a break.

    Second, stop saying no! Do not say, “I can’t do this sitting”, instead, ask yourself “How can I learn to play both sitting and standing” … Do not say, “I can’t play with backing tracks” but rather, “How can I learn to play with and without backing tracks” … Don’t short circuit your journey before it has even begun.

    If you’re a normal human being, and not some musical prodigy, EVERYTHING about learning to play will be DIFFICULT and outside your comfort zone. So give yourself a break, give yourself permission to suck at it and be uncomfortable, and give yourself a lot more time to learn. Do your best and don’t expect pleasing results at the starting line … be pleased with the tiniest personal achievements and don’t judge yourself in relation to others. Do your best to follow your instructor and give yourself credit for trying. You are awesome just for taking the first step.
  8. EricG
    Mark Gunter-thank you. Your advice really hit home. It’s been quite a while since I tried to learn something new that’s, well, not easy. I also took Sue’s advice and watched the Banjo Brain video about frustration that Henry posted. All of this advice has done me good-thanks everyone.
  9. NDO
    All of those were way more articulate ways of saying what I intended to say
    Great advice for all of us to heed.
  10. bbcee
    Well stated as always, Mark.
  11. EricG
    I just wanted to say thank you again to everyone that offered me advice. I took it all in, relaxed and worked yesterday on playing sitting down and playing with the backing tracks. I stepped out of my comfort zone and submitted my first video for Mike to critique. I had to laugh at how much worse I played while recording the video, but like everything else I’m sure that too will improve with time.
  12. NDO
    Every one of us has discovered that as soon as soon as you turn on a video recorder your fingers turn into sausages and your brain turns into scrambled eggs.
  13. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    True that.
  14. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    That’s great Eric
  15. JeffLearman
    Frankly, backing tracks are easier than the metronome. Both are important to play to, if you want to be a decent player, and especially if you want to play with others. To help chill, try sitting out the first verse and come in on the second one. Or just play a few strokes during the first verse. Feel free to come in on the backbeat, which is a lot easier than nailing the downbeat, and is VERY musical and frankly what a lot of us should be doing more of the time anyway. (Backbeat is 2 and 4, usually.) SIMPLIFY.

    It can also help to play those backing tracks reaaaaal slow, if that's an option. Then speed up as your confidence increases.

    About recording: I've been doing it since the late 70's and I still tend to clutch when the recorder is going -- and that's just recording audio! Part of the problem is that when recording I want every note to be in perfect intonation, all articulation I hear in my head to come out, etc. And I just can't do it all. I'm way better when playing for friends or even a crowd, when I think more about the whole performance and don't fret the details (no pun intended but gee it works.)
  16. JeffLearman
    Wanna get really finger-tied? Get a looper. Then, any mistake you make keeps coming back around. Yikes.
  17. HonketyHank
    "It can also help to play those backing tracks reaaaaal slow, if that's an option. Then speed up as your confidence increases."

    Somebody really famous once said "if you can't play it slow you'll never be able to play it fast." And if he didn't, he ought to've. Or maybe it was somebody else. But it was good advice.
  18. Sue Rieter
    Sue Rieter
    What the heck is a looper? I saw this mentioned in a thread on the main page, but it feels safer asking on the newbie page
  19. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Sue, a looper is a pedal (or other device, but I've seen them as a pedal) is basically a recording and playback device, so that you can record a piece of music (a few lines, or a whole song) and then repeat (loop) it. So you can, for instance, play and then loop the chords from a song, then play the melody and accompany yourself. It is something musicians usually do in a solo act.

    In the jam-band world, I would guess Keller Williams might be one of the more prominent guys who uses a looper. You can see him using multiple loops here:
  20. NDO
    I just ordered a looper (on sale at Sweetwater for $75!) this week since I moved home to WA and can’t jam with my band every week. I’ve seen some solo acts make some amazing music with a looper so I thought I’d give it a try.
  21. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    Don, can I ask how you plan to use that looper?

    I'm still so new to all this electronic stuff, and despite having an emando, I haven't used it for anything other than plugging into the amp and playing.

    Could you, for example, record and loop your harmonicas? Going, harmonica--microphone--looper--amp? Or do you have to have an instrument with a plug-in to utilize it?

    I think about getting a mic and/or pedals to facilitate some home-recording.
  22. NDO
    Great question SM. I actually could technically loop the harps since I have a harp mic with a 1/4Ē plug, but my main intention is to lay down a chord rhythm with the mando and then practice playing melody and leads and fills with mandolin and/or harmonica over it.
    With harmonica I tend to play almost entirely leads and fills and melodies, though many people use it as a rhythm instrument. I can play it on a harp rack but it isnít nearly as fun or effective as playing it in hand. And I really want to get more proficient at playing some lead licks and melody and tremolo with the mandolin accompanying songs. I was just starting to do some of that on a couple of songs with the band in gigs (particularly Harvest Moon and Wicked Game) and it sounded greatÖIíd like to get to doing those ones solo at some point.

    As far as other pedals I have a couple of tube modeling preamps and delay pedals. I run the harp mic through one of each and then into a mixer. The mandolin I plug into a tube modeling preamp and then the mixer. Then vocal mics go straight to the mixer. Iím not really happy with the sound of the pickups on any of my mandolins; two have K&K and one has a JJB which is probably the best sounding. So Iím treating myself to a ToneDexter for Christmas which should help with all of them. Iím really curious what will happen if I play the wavemap from my Wilcox while playing one of the Eastmans

    Honestly for home recording purposes youíll probably be happiest with all acoustic sound from a condenser mic set in the middle of the room rather than plugging everything in. I have come to appreciate a PA as a necessary evil for playing to a crowd, but I really love just playing acoustic.
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